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Broadband gets green light

COVID-19 forced many changes to daily life, but after eight years of work, COVID-19 was what sealed the deal on one major change in Franklin County: broadband.

Franklin County Broadband Task Force Chairperson Katernia Cole-Coffey said for years the task force received the same response about broadband, but COVID-19 proved to many people how essential internet is.

“In a sense, without it, it was like – the things you needed, you didn’t have,” Cole-Coffey said. “COVID-19 made people see that and was what finally got this for us.”

The expansion of broadband in Franklin County comes through a $3,875,141.90 grant through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

With this grant money, Tombigbee Electric will be able to expand its fiber network into rural Franklin County.

The areas included will be the communities surrounding Hodges, Vina, Spruce Pine and the eastern part of the county, east of Russellville to the Lawrence County line, including Bethsaida and Tharptown to East Franklin and Phil Campbell.

“This is a huge victory for our area,” said Rep. Jamie Kiel, “but we are not through. I will continue to work through the legislative process to ensure everyone in Franklin County and House District 18 has access to rural broadband internet. In addition, I am grateful for the work, since 2013, of the Franklin County Broadband Task Force and its chairperson, Katerina Cole-Coffey.”

Kiel said one of his major goals since being elected in 2018 has been to bring broadband to rural areas.

“In this day and age, everyone needs access to internet. It is essential that our businesses, schools and families have access,” said Kiel. “This funding is a first step to greater connectivity for all of Northwest Alabama.”

This grant was part of $4.95 million ADECA awarded toward Franklin, Lauderdale and Colbert counties.

“Broadband connectivity is critical for the economic growth and success of our state,” said Sen. Larry Stutts. “This is excellent news for Franklin and Lauderdale counties, and I appreciate the work ADECA is doing through the Broadband Accessibility Fund to support the expansion of high-speed internet across Alabama.

“We have spent a serious amount of time this session to propose solutions that will help address this matter. I am proud we were able to approve a significant broadband expansion bill in both the Senate and House and send it over to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature.”

This grant will come in addition to a $6 million grant coming to Franklin County for water, sewer and broadband through the American Recovery Act.

“We are proud of this opportunity for reliable, affordable last mile fiber optic broadband internet that will be a benefit for all of the citizens of Franklin County, as well as providing economic growth for our county,” said Franklin County Commission Chairman Barry Moore.

Tombigbee Electric CEO Steve Foshee, who will be installing and maintaining the network, said there is still a significant amount of work to do, but getting to this point has been a team effort.

“Having a fiber optic connection to home and business with gig speeds will be life changing to the people of Franklin County,” Foshee said. “There are more areas to get solutions to, but this is a big start.”